Jordanian women married to Asian men: Double the suffering!

Najwa Soliman

The city of Dhlail has flourished since the nineties of the last century with the establishment of dozens of factories in the city. It currently hosts dozens of factories, most of which are specialized in spinning and weaving. The operation of these factories has left its mark on the social fabric of Dhlail, especially among people with low income.   

It appears that the majority of Asian expatriates in Jordan work in the Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ), which include the city of Dhlail. Many of these expatriates have integrated into the local community by living with members of the community in their areas.

With the presence of Asian workers in Dhlail area, the number of marriages between Jordanian women and men with Asian nationalities, most notably Bengali, Indian, and Pakistani, has increased. The total number of Asian migrant workers in 13 factories in Dhlail area alone amounts to 17,752.

Some cases of marriage have been going for 22 years and less, during which extended families were created. However, many women are increasingly suffering because of these marriages, as they were unable to integrate their families into the local society.

Landing a job is one of the most frequent problems among this kind of families. Sometimes, the husband loses his job and remains unemployed. He cannot find work outside the factory, and once he has finished working in the factory, he remains captive to a society that judges him just for being Asian, and even blames him for marrying a Jordanian.

No work or permit

Samira was working in a factory when she met her Bengali husband. The got married 7 years ago and had 2 boys, who are 5 and 3 years old now. Samira does not feel safe. She is always worried that her husband will be arrested and boarded to the expatriates arrest bus.

Her husband left his job in the factory and worked alongside her in a grocery store selling basic goods, but there is no stability. “After my husband left work in the factory, fear has not left us.” Samira says, “We are always concerned that one day he will be arrested. It is a never-ending nightmare that we live daily, because I know it will destroy our future.”

“We go to the shop terrified every day. Although he is married to a Jordanian woman, he is haunted by a permanent feeling that he is a worker with no family. We simply want equality in the most basic rights. For example, I wish my husband did not need a permit. We do not have the financial ability to bear the costs of a permit. It is difficult to pay 600 JDs, especially since I have 4 children, not to mention the rent money and the loan I took to open the shop.”

Umm Hamdi never thought that marrying a non-Jordanian was a “nightmare” until she got married to one and entered the most painful phase of her life. “I never thought that my life will be this way, and that people would renounce me for marrying an Asian.”

These women, together with twenty other women, meet constantly and share their experiences and incidents among each other. They always try to protect their husbands when the Ministry of Labor inspection teams come in. They do so by stepping in place of their husbands, who usually work in small grocery stores scattered on the sides of factories.

Umm Sara believes that the said teams intentionally pursues their husbands, despite the fact that the teams know these men are married to Jordanian women. They treat the men like perpetrators.

Is there any special context for the Jordanian-Asian family? Umm Sara says her life is full of events, from work in the factory to the grocery store next to her husband, as they stay up working till late into the night. She says that the children are the victims of this lifestyle. “I am not taking good care of my children” Umm Sara said, “The difficulties of our lives and the continuous visits to the ministry and Residence and Borders Department is rendering us incapable of taking care of our children.”

Tala has been married to her Bengali husband for 6 years. She has two children (six years and four years of age). Tala and her husband owns a small grocery that operates for 4 hours during the time when migrant workers finish their shifts at the factories.

Tala says that the inspection teams treat her husband like a fugitive and do not know that he is married to a Jordanian. “Yes, I am demanding our rights” She says, “I want my husband to be relieved from a work permit. It is very expensive.” 

Tala’s husband, a Bengali, tells us that he is constantly detained by the police, and they always ask him about the legitimacy of his residency in Jordan before they decide to detain him for a while. He always explains to them, in his weak Arabic, that he is not guilty.

Tala interrupts her husband and says that she goes directly to the security center to release him. “Isn’t it enough that he feels like a criminal every time they shackle his hands and take him to the police patrol?”

Maram, who has been married to an Indian for 13 years, has no children. Her husband’s work permit has expired and he has to pay 600 JDs to renew it. However, they do not have this kind of money, so they live in constant fear of the inspection teams.

She works at a factory from 7:30 am till 4:00 pm. Afterwards, she goes to work in a grocery shop. “I only want fair treatment.” Tala says, “We just want a solution to the work permit problem.”

Maram hopes to see the day when her life is normal, and asks the government to facilitate their lives through a fairly-priced work permit: “We do not want constant fear and anxiety. This is torture.”

The Ministry of Labor and the Facilities

Director of the Labor Office in Dhlail, Juma’a Abu Mesaimeer confirms the commitment of the Directorate of Labor to fulfill its duty by enforcing the provisions of the Labor Law regarding expatriate workers. Non-Jordanian men who are married to Jordanian women are exempted from the cost of the residence visa under the Labor Law, which is considered a “privilege” according to Mr. Juma’a. However, this exemption is only valid as long as the non-Jordanian husband refrain from working, but if they wish to work, then they will be treated as foreigners and would require a work permit.

According to the director of the Tamkeen Center, Linda Klesh, this privilege is merely a restriction on the entire family. She says that the non-Jordanian husband is entitled to residency, but when it comes to a work permit, he is treated like any other non-Jordanian, and can only work in open professions.

Kalsh says there is a need for campaigns to raise awareness of the rights of Asian workers, improve their image and reputation, and combat discrimination against them. She also believes that human rights organizations should pay attention to this issue.

According to the provisions of the Labor Law, migrant workers, except for domestic and cleaning workers in apartment complexes, and those who wish to renew their work permits with the same employer, receive a 50% discount on the work permit fees for the period prior to the renewal date of the work permit.

If the worker wishes to leave Jordan permanently, he shall be exempted of 60% of the work permit fees and the additional amount due for any previous period.

As for the inspection campaigns, Abu Mesimir confirms that that fact that the expatriate is married to a Jordanian woman does not exempt him from acquiring a work permit.

A member of the Municipality of Dhlail, Mahmoud Blasme says that a special committee starts inspection campaigns at the beginning of each year to ensure that all shops and business have the required licenses. The campaign usually starts in January and ends in March. Any violative shops or businesses receive a warning on April, and may be closed if the license is not acquired or renewed. Many of the shops were migrant workers work are registered by the name of their Jordanian wives.

It is noteworthy that the year 2014 witnessed an increase in the number of marriages between Jordanian women and men of Asian nationality, with 34 recorded marriages. Amman, the capital, hosted the highest number of marriage (52 cases), followed by Balqa (43 cases), and Zarqa (38 cases), while the governorates of Jerash, Ma’an, and Madaba did not record a single case in the last seven years, according to the Supreme Judge Department.

Most vulnerable people

The head of the Center for Human Rights, Omar Jarrah, sheds light on the need to reconsider the conditions of this category of workers on the legal and social levels. He further says that the situation of Asian workers married to Jordanian women in Dhlail area urges the state to pay attention to this issue, correct the situation of expatriate workers, and improve the work and legal environment in accordance with human dignity. 

One of the ladies did not hide her concern regarding the future and the possibility that they may be forced to leave Jordan, especially because her children do not speak Bengali. This is disturbing for Fatima, who wants her children to learn their father’s tongue alongside Arabic. She believes that this will help them avoid any difficulties if they returned to their father’s country in the future.

The situation of Jordanian women who are married to Asians is not different from that of women married to men from other nationalities, but these women endure double the pain as they constantly fight against the negative stereotypes, and demand equality with men as a solution to the hardships of their lives.

The report is published on the website at the following link:

* Supported by Journalists for Human Rights (JHR)

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